India’s coal defense at COP26 hides China’s role

India’s coal defense at COP26 hides China’s role

At the end of more than two weeks of global climate talks, India downplayed language on coal use. But India’s direct resistance to the final text of the Glasgow climate accord helped hide the role played by China and even the US in the weak outcome.

The dramatic process of amending the final text unfolded in the closing minutes of talks on Saturday, before COP26 president Alok Sharma could bring down the gavel, all around a single paragraph. Sticking Point: Calls to accelerate the “phase-out” of coal power unabated from plants that do not use carbon-capture technology.


In the end game, which lasted more than an hour in the full hall, China said it wanted the language to reduce coal use closer to the text it had discussed earlier in a joint statement with the US. agreed within the week. , But the interpretation of the last minute change was left to India. Instead of agreeing to a “phase-out” of coal power, India’s environment minister, Bhupendra Yadav, read a new version of the paragraph describing what should happen for coal use to “phase-down” was used. That formulation made it into the final text supported by nearly 200 countries.

Several countries, including Switzerland and the Marshall Islands, immediately complained that other delegations were barred from reopening the text, while India worked its way into a late adjustment. “I apologize for the way this process unfolded and I am deeply sorry,” Sharma told the stage in tears. “I also understand the deep disappointment. But as you have already noted, it is also important that we protect this package.”

The maneuver highlights one of the major tensions in this year’s UN climate talks. China, the US and India are the three biggest polluters, and all three have now pledged to reduce their emissions to zero in the coming decades. Yet India and China made last-ditch interventions to soften language on coal use, and the US played a role in acknowledging that vulnerable position, calling into question their short-term commitment to curbing coal use .

In the first plenary session on Saturday, several countries protested various passages of the text. Iran was among the group that supported India and China’s position on coal.

It was the US and China that first adopted the term “phase-down” in their bilateral climate agreement, which was adopted with great fanfare in the midst of COP26. Before the dramatic final plenary, the US signaled acceptance of the “phased-down” language used in a joint statement with China, according to a person familiar with the US position, who asked not to be named. .

“You have to phase out coal before — quote — end coal,” US climate envoy John Kerry told a news conference after adopting the final text.

As the gavel came down, however, what looked like the primary holdout on the coal side was left over from India. Still, two people familiar with the late discussion at the plenary hall involving Sharma said China played a major role in pushing soft language.

Chinese diplomats have made it clear privately that the world’s top emitters are reluctant to include more stringent formulations on eliminating coal. “Slogans may have unnecessary negative impact on speed. It could be like, ‘Pull the seeds to help them grow,'” Li Zheng, a member of China’s delegation at COP26, said in an interview on Friday using a Chinese proverb. “Demonstrating fossil fuels would only harm itself.”

With the world grappling with energy crunch, both India and China have turned to mining more coal. That context was supposed to make climate negotiations difficult, especially any restrictions on the use of the dirtiest fossil fuels. Even in the US, where President Joe Biden is trying to pass a comprehensive climate package, he has had to succumb to the ire of elected lawmakers from coal constituencies.

After the talks, experts pushed back the view that India should be seen as responsible for the late changes to the agreement, which should be drawn up by consensus. Some observers saw developed countries sharing responsibility for the water-scarce coal language as they opposed additional financial commitments for poorer countries.

Brandon Wu, director of policy and campaigns for Action Aid USA, wrote on Twitter: “The problem is not India.” “The problem is that the US and rich countries are refusing to eliminate fossil-fuels in terms of global equity.”

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